Dealing With a Partner Who Has a Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style
Are you struggling to understand what went wrong?
A small proportion of the population has what is commonly referred to by psychologists as a dismissive avoidant attachment style. Due to the experiences of their childhood they tend to see relationships with others as painful and troubling, causing them to become highly self-reliant and dismissive of the need for human intimacy. Being with someone who has these characteristics can be frustrating and painful, particularly if you are the kind of person who is looking for a lot of affection and closeness in relationship. A person with a dismissive avoidant attachment style is unlikely to change, and if they do it will be through their own hard work and self-inquiry. It will definitely not be through your efforts! If you intend to stay happily in a relationship with such a person the best thing you can do is accept them as they are and learn to live harmoniously together.
Image: Copyright Gokhan Okur.
Learning through relationship
Relationships have the potential to teach you many valuable lessons and provide the challenges that are so important for our growth as human beings. Being with someone who has a dismissive avoidant attachment style can push you to explore your own need for attachment and what it is you are looking for when you enter and participate in intimate relationships. One of the things that can emerge as you explore this territory is an inability to love yourself due to a deep-seated belief in your own lack of worth. You therefore look to your partner to give you the reassurance you need to feel good about yourself. In such a case, being with someone who is dismissive avoidant can be extremely difficult, however with conscious intent it can also be used as a tool for self-growth.
Learning to meet your own emotional needs can be a challenging process, made almost impossible if your lover continuously bows to your emotional neediness and provides the support, or crutch, you are looking for. This can be especially problematic if their own emotional well-being is tied to the need to be needed, leading to the classic co-dependent dynamic where each person props up the other emotionally. This dynamic is rarely sustainable and most often destructive. In contrast, a dismissive avoidant is unlikely to provide you with such a crutch. Instead they will tell you in no uncertain terms, either directly or through emotional withdrawal, that you have to meet these needs for yourself.
Image: Copyright joeymc861.
Taking responsibility for yourself
Meeting your own emotional needs means taking responsibility for yourself. You do this through:
- Becoming more self-aware and emotionally resilient either through counseling, journaling, meditation or other means of self-inquiry.
- Learning to self-sooth and nurture yourself when you're feeling emotionally imbalanced. This may take many forms, from a quiet walk on the beach to reading an inspirational book.
- Seeking emotional support through a diverse social network based on a healthy model of inter-dependence rather than demanding that your partner meets all your needs
Knowing when it's time to let go and move on
I am a firm believer in living at your edge while not pushing yourself over the edge! Being with a dismissive avoidant can help you become more emotionally mature, resilient and self-nurturing. But if you are not at a point where you can observe these dynamics and work with them it can be isolating and detrimental to your emotional and psychological wellbeing. Instead of becoming stronger and growing through the relationship you find yourself becoming more needy and anxious. A typical pursuer-distancer dynamic sets in where your increasing demands for intimacy cause your partner to back off from you and becoming more and more emotionally unavailable.
This kind of dynamic can be particular problematic when a dismissive avoidant is paired with someone who has an insecure anxious attachment style, a combination that is all too common. People with an anxious or preoccupied attachment style feel very insecure when they are not given the reassurance they need to feel ok. They worry a lot about whether their partner loves them and require direct displays of affection and intimacy in order to remain emotionally stable. As you can imagine these two individuals go together like fire and water, and yet somehow they are strangely attracted. Perhaps this is because they have so much to learn from each other.
Image: Copyright Sanja Gjenero.
Acknowledging when you are not coping
If your relationship with your dismissive avoidant partner has reached a stalemate and you are not coping you will notice a number of telltale signs:
- You are using more and more manipulative behaviours in order to get your partner to react, or to give you the reassurance that you need.
- You are obsessing about your partner, spending way too much time thinking about them and very little time attending to your own emotional well-being.
- You feel a constant nagging need to change your partner or make them behave differently and you spend way too much time thinking about how you might make them do this.
- Your level of anxiety is through the roof and yet you cannot seem to communicate this with your partner without the conversation turning nasty and blaming.
- Your partner is becoming more and more emotionally distant, despite your repeated attempts to bring a greater sense of intimacy to the relationship.
Reaching out for help
If the relationship has become toxic counseling may be called for, or you may have to acknowledge that you need to spend time on your own before you are ready for this level of emotional challenge. This does not mean that you stop loving your partner, or that you blame them for the 'relationship not working out'. Your partner has their own lessons to learn from relationship but that is their problem. Your task is to look to your own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs and ask 'does this relationship serve me?' In the end, the success of failure or a relationship is not about how long it lasts but how two people grow as a result.
Books that might provide further insight
John Bowlby's work on attachment theory has profoundly changed our understanding of human relationships
Would you stay with someone who is dismissive avoidant?
An amazing book that helps you rise above those pesky feelings that confuse and distort reality. Understandably a bestseller.